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Tag Archives: Mario Batali
Sustainability, local food, and the “foodie” movement have closely intertwined cultures. Foodie obsessions are oft from local butchers, artisans, and farmers. Local food draws adherents not only because it is tasty, but because it is sustainable. So you’ll forgive me for assuming that celebrity chef Batali’s uber-foodie paradise Eataly had a sustainable core. When it opened last summer across from the Flatiron, I eagerly put it on my to-do list.
Well, before I got around to it, writer Wayne Curtis wrote an interesting piece for Grist criticizing Eataly as a missed opportunity:
I admit I walked into the New York Eataly with high hopes…But once I slowed down and enjoyed the village sensibility, something seemed amiss. It was celebration of a place — but a place thousands of miles away, not this place.
It’s not that the local is overlooked — Eataly carries produce grown on a rooftop garden in Queens, fish from local waters, and fresh-baked bread — but local here tends to feel like the “local” section that every chain supermarket feels obligated to install these days — a sort of begrudging nod to a trend. It’s not the driving force behind the store, as it is in Italy.
If what Curtis was saying is correct, then Eataly misses the whole point of the original Eataly, which celebrates the best of Italian food in its home country. Instead, Batali exported the Eataly model to New York, and the process celebrates the culture of importation. I mean, it’s not processed crap food, no, but it sounds like a far cry from sustainable. So I decided I needed to check it out for myself.
Last night I found myself in the area with a grocery list and decided to give it a shot, budget be damned. I walked in past a cafe and pastry counter, past jars of chestnut cream with vanilla, a display of chocolate truffles, a patisserie with rows of little jewels of pastries lined up in a row, an espresso bar whose machine looked like a chrome R2D2 with a hood ornament on top, through the cheese section, with its exotic yet comforting vaguely footy smell, and hanging sausages that looked like a bitch to carve, and a joy to eat.
I turned the corner and was struck by the sheer, glorious size. It was expansive, a luxurious use of space in a city where so often you can’t even fit a shopping cart down an aisle. After wandering through the wine bar, which featured a cathedral-like area and tubs full of wine bottles, I finally found the produce section. They had blue foot mushrooms for $30 a pound (I’m so glad I looked at the price on that one), four different kinds of pears, and mesclun mixed with pansy petals, but nothing organic! I picked up a coconut, and was warned away by an employee, who said they were probably rotten. I looked at the apple labels, which were mostly void of any origin.
I did come away with a couple containers of locally made yogurt, but didn’t even attempt to find frozen berries. I guess they would have been in one of the spaces where full on restaurants now occupy. Yes, Eataly has at least four wall-less restaurants with hostesses who will seat you.
It is certainly authentic. Mike joined me there (after 15 minutes of searching for me) and said that all the things he saw felt familiar and evoked a certain nostalgia. He is a second generation Italian American from the kind of family who goes crazy for Italian cheese and dried pepper flakes, and usually has five different meat course for each meal.
But I have to agree with Wayne Curtis from Grist that Eataly seems like a missed opportunity. It is certainly fun as a peek into another culture, or perhaps as a tourist destination. But it seems to just perpetuate all the worst stereotypes about foodies as self-centered, out-of-touch spendthrifts who have nothing more to occupy them than getting authentic Italian soda and apricot honey.
I guess I’ve just crossed it off my to-do list.
I’m an avid user and reviewer of Yelp, so I decided to highlight some of my reviews of organic, local, and sustainable eats in NYC and Brooklyn. This is by no means comprehensive though! On my to-do list: The Good Fork, ABC Restaurant, Xoom, and so. many. others. Good sustainable food is everywhere, you just need to know where to look!
As a huge local food fan, I’m always excited to hear about a restaurant with a relationship with the farmers. You won’t see a Cisco food truck outside of this place. Every dish is lovingly crafted from artisinal cheeses, locally-grown produce, and delicious humanly raised meats. It makes it all the better than the owner, Carlos Suarez, quit finance (“a lack of values” he said) to open this restaurant.
We arrived just a few minutes later for our 7:45 reservation, and an older gentleman led us up the painted wood stairs lined with flickering candles to a romantic dining room. The handcrafted quality of the restaurant shines through even in the decor. Fashioned from what was obviously a townhouse at some point, the dining room is romantically lit, with bookshelves stocked with old tomes, heavy draperies, and candles everywhere.
We hit a hiccup when our waiter forgot to provide us with a wine list, but he apologized when he realized 10 minutes later and was quickly back to take our order of an artisinal and biodynamic malbec. There was also a short list of cocktails, bottled and draft beers, and aperitifs. I hardly noticed the less than stellar service because he was so friendly, and even made me laugh a few times.
We provided the waiter with a coupon from Blackboard eats, and received in return a plate of fig leaf wraps with brown rice and a sweet sauce, and three “shooters” of pepper and zucchini infused non-alcoholic drink. They have a long list of canapes that comes in singles for about $3 a piece, so you can mix and match.
The star of the night was the duck breast with chorizo that my boyfriend ordered – it was an eyes-rolling-back-my-head moment. My brook trout wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, unfortunately. And at one point I had to pull a small bone out of my mouth. Yuck.
However, you must order something from the dessert menu. We had a trio of ice cream sandwich sliders: gingerbread-oatmeal-raisin cookies with a mildly fruity ice cream, chocolate with what I think was a cookies and cream ice cream, and and a classic chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. We made a huge mess, but since they put down paper on the tables instead of white cloth, I didn’t feel so bad.
As we left we noticed that the downstairs bar was booming. And it looks like you can order some food at the stand up tables by the window as well.
A word on the prices – they are very reasonable. I was suprised that the bill wasn’t more, given that we ordered so much, and the quality of the restaurant. Add in the fact that all ingredients are local and organic, well it’s practically a steal. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but the value is definitely there.
All in all I would definitely come back here, but it hasn’t quite made my list of favorites.
Oh man does my boyfriend know me well. I’m a huge local/organic/sustainable food buff, and at his suggestion we came to The Farm on Adderly for a casual after work dinner.
We ate inside, since there was a short wait for the garden out back. The tables are well spaced so you aren’t elbowing your neighbor, and the whole space has a cozy feel.
When the waiter (friendly, knowledgeable, and prompt) described their steak special of the night, I wondered to myself if the meat was grass-fed or local. Imagine my delight when I spied the footnote on the menu: “All the meat on the menu has been sourced locally, is pasture-raised and humanely cared for.” Score!
The menu itself is short and sweet, with an assortment of cheeses, not more than five salads, and some entrees. But the beer and wine menu looked extensive. We ordered cocktails – he got the cucumber lemonade and I ordered the grapefruit Blue Ridge Parkway (a reference to a scenic drive through the Appalachians.)
For non-alcoholic beverages, they had some interesting choices, including Fentiman’s Brewed Cola, Zico Coconut Water, Fever Tree Tonic, and even homemade kombucha. This place is a hippie paradise. At the bottom, as if they are ashamed to admit it, there is diet coke too.
I ordered the special, which was… hmmm… what did they call it… a crepette I think? It was a meat dish with tripe. The waiter was nice enough to warn me about the tripe, but really, you can’t even tell it’s there. It wasn’t the best meat dish I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t bad either, and was very filling.
My bf ordered the butcher’s meatballs, which he reported being quite satisfied with. We took a glance at the dessert menu, just to see what was on there. Mistake. I had to shove it away so I wouldn’t be tempted by all the delicious confections on there, including banana chocolate upside down cake. Another time, for sure.
Neighborhood: Morningside Heights
I had heard such wonderful things about this place, and after coming here both for dinner and brunch, I’ve gotten a 360 view.
They have a wonderful selection of organic and local beers to start off with. I didn’t try the cocktails, but they were tempting, to say the least. In fact, they have a lot of local and sustainable fair on the menu, which is always very nice.
I had a delicious salmon and fried potato salad over a bed of parsley, which just blew my mind. I’m not a huge salad person, but I left feeling very full.
I came here a few days later for brunch. We managed to snag a table in the shade outside (the wait for an indoor table looked long) but not all tables are shaded, so watch out on a hot summer day.
We saw several B.E.L.T.s walk by (bacon lettuce tomato and egg on sourdough, yum!) But I opted for a more traditional house-made apple sausage and eggs with carrot hashbrowns. Filling and delicious. My friend had the blueberry pancakes, which came with a syrup that tasted like brown sugar and butter. So decadent, and so good!
Neighborhood: Upper West Side
My friend and I were lured here by the promise of organic and biodynamic wines. The menu was full of organic wines by the glass as promised, but I had a hard time ferreting out a biodynamic wine. Too bad. If you are looking for an extensive wine list, you’ve got it here. It goes on for pages and pages.
I know this might not matter, but I noticed the menus are cheap photo albums with printed paper slid into the plastic pockets. Small things like that really factor into my experience. That, along with the unfinished awning out front, gave me the feeling that they weren’t quite finished putting the place together.
The food (all meant to be shared) was delicious, and the service good. We ordered the organic veal meatballs and asparagus and peas risotto. I could have licked the plate!
My one big complaint was the tight space. It was a crowded Thursday night, so we sat at a high communal table with five others. In order to leave, everyone on one side of the table had to climb down from their stool to let the person pass.
It was super loud in there, but my friend and I had to strike a careful balance between speaking loud enough to here each other, and not offending our neighbors, who we knocked elbows with the whole meal.
I’ll probably go back for a casual glass of wine and some plates with a friend since it’s in my ‘hood, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a romantic date, and I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
I am so happy this is right around the corner from my boyfriend’s place, because we both agree we’ll be going back soon!When the sommelier came over, he inquired after my preferences, and then went to get three bottles and three glasses. “I think I’ll taste some with you,” he told us.
Each glass he would give an abbreviated, broad description, (“full, fruity, bold) which was nice because it’s a proven scientific fact that you cannot detect five different notes in every wine, no matter how romantic it sounds. Then while my boyfriend and I followed protocol (swirl, smell, taste) he would knock it back like a frat boy taking a shot. We suspected he might be drunk, or maybe he didn’t even work there and was just hanging out. Doesn’t matter because we were super happy with the wine he helped us choose. He also pointed at the Brooklyn borough president who was schmoozing at a nearby table.
When our friends joined us, we ordered two appetizer plates, and an assortment of cheeses and prosciutto. The wooden platter of prosciutto and cheeses was amazing, but the duck really took the award for the night. I’ve never had such a sumptuous mouth-feel before. We tasted our friends’ sweet potato dish, it was hard to refrain from stealing their plate and eating the rest! Dessert was amazing too: bite-sized chocolate tulips. I would give you a fuller description, but by this point my faculties were severely impaired.
I also liked their presentation: vintage-looking silver and raw cut wood platters. We all had such a great time, I couldn’t imagine a nicer night.
Neighborhood: Upper West Side
As far as smoothie places go, this is the best.My reasons? Voila:
1. They use fresh, local-when-possible, organic ingredients.
2. They have delicious smoothies with ingredients like acai, goji berry, ginger, or just your regular strawberries and banana, plus boosters.
3. They use recycled plastic cups that – unlike Jamba Juice’s – don’t leach chemicals into your yummy smoothie.
4. Their sandwiches are fresh-made, and delicious, especially when grilled and cheesy-melty.
5. If you need a snack, they have crazy healthy raw food bars, trail mix, and protein muffins.
6. The people who work there are always friendly and helpful. They deserve all the tips they get and more!
7. In the winter, you can get a hot drink like their cold-busting ginger and orange juice drink. Peps you right up.
8. Everything always looks hyper-sterilized and organized.
This place costs me seven extra blocks of walking before work, but it’s totally worth it. I love starting my day with a smoothie or (if I’m hungover) a muffin.
There’s something that seems so much more natural about wine versus other alcohols. Somehow, when it comes to enjoying an eco-friendly buzz, the harsh burn of vodka – no matter how organic it is – doesn’t compare to the fruity and smoky undertones of a wine from upstate.
As luck would have it, I’ve found myself at four different wine bars over the past month or so. Perhaps I’m just turning into an old fogey, but suddenly I think I like wine bars way better than fratty sports bars that reek of PBR.
Let’s be clear: I know next to nothing about wines. If you gave me a blind taste test, I could identify Riesling, Chardonnay, and…”Red,” and that’s the extent of my expertise. But who doesn’t want to learn more about wines? A wine bar is the second most fun way to do so, behind visiting the winery itself and before ducking into a knowledgeable wine shop.
Bar #1: The first wine bar I visited was when I first started dating Mike. We spent the day at Brooklyn Botanic gardens, and in between that and going to his friends’ barbeque we stopped at Total Wine Bar on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. It’s a simple layout, with bench seating in the front, and u-shaped bar at the back. It was in the afternoon, so every seat was filled at the bar while the rest of the place was empty. I suspect we would have gotten the full experience if we could have fit in at the bar (where everyone seemed to know each other) and chatted with the sommelier, but alas Mike just got a couple glasses and we were relegated to the loser bench at the front to have a party with ourselves. We finished our glasses and moved on.
Bar #2: About two weeks ago my mind was wandering at work, and I realized something. I texted Mike. “We’ve never gotten drunk together!”
How did that happen? What a change from college, where it seemed guys would only talk to you if you had been prepped with three cups of warm Natty Light. And now here I was, six weeks deep into a new relationship and we hadn’t even had a “What happened last night,” moment. I mean, it’s not like we hadn’t drank together, but we hadn’t been taking shots together either.
I wasn’t sure whether I felt lame (what happened to the party girl??) or proud (I can get a guy to hang out with me when he’s sober!) [Clarification: I have, in fact, dated other guys who not only take me on dates when they are sober, but don't drink at all. My standards aren't that low.] Either way, it was time to remedy this lapse. After all, you never really know a person until you’ve seen their drunk side, in my opinion. So we decided to get wasty-face together.
True to form, Mike sent me an email with the link to The Castello Plan, a wine bar only a couple blocks from his apartment. At first I was taken aback, and told him so. “I was thinking some place, with, you know, shots?” But he insisted it is a great place and promised if we started slow we could kick it up a notch later at other nearby bars.
Mike managed to recruit a couple friends to meet us. ”Don’t worry,” he said. “All I do is drink with Bobby and Danna. They’ll be the perfect company for the night.”
So Mike and I showed up at The Castello Plan at eight on a Friday. His friends were running late so we went ahead and waved a guy over to our table who looked like he worked there. “Hey, my name’s Ben,” he said. “What can I get for you?”
“We’re not sure what we want,” I said. “Can you recommend a red?” (I’ve been really into reds lately.)
“Sure, would you like something really fruity and and full-bodied? Or something lighter?” We asked for lighter, and he left and returned with three bottles and three big glasses. “I’m going to have some with you,” he said. He lined up the bottles in a row. “Fuller to lightest,” he said, indicating left to right. As he set about uncorking the bottles, he started telling us about how he had just shaved his beard off that morning. Random, I know, but he seemed nice (ok, and cute) and I complimented him on his fresh look. He pointed to the large round table in the corner, where an older guy held court telling a story to a rapt audience of five other people. “That’s the borough president,” he said. I was duly impressed.
“You live near here?” he asked Mike. Mike said yes. “And you two..don’t live together?” Ben said, arching his eyebrows, sliding his glass in a circle over the wooden surface of the table to swirl the wine.
“No,” I shook my head, blushing. Mike told me later he was convinced Ben was hitting on me, but I told him he was just making conversation.
Ben poured the three glasses. “This one is medium-bodied, with a fresh berry flavor,” he told us. Mike and I dutifully put our noses in the glass to smell, but Ben had already knocked his wine back. I was surprised by his short description and short work of the wine.
He poured the next glasses, again gave a short description, and then poured it into his mouth. Ok, now I was convinced he had been smoking or drinking beforehand. I shot Mike an amused look. Ben waited for we slow pokes to finish our glasses, poured the third wine with another curt description, and finished it. “The second one,” I said. Mike agreed, and Ben filled our glasses and left us with a delicious bottle.
Soon Bobby and Danna joined us. We ordered food, a cheese and charcuterie platter with high quality sausages like wild boar. Wild boar! Just like Michael Pollan! Mike and I also ordered a duck spread, whose fatty deliciousness melted over the crackly bread and in our mouths. We tried I bite of Bobby and Danna’s sweet potato dish – delicious – and then a dessert of chocolate tulips.
By that time other tables had come and gone as we drank and talked and laughed. We paid our bill and wandered down the street to another bar, the Solo Lounge to get a shot, and then dispersed for the night. I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t stay out past 2 in the morning on our drunk night, but c’est la vie. Anyway, I can assure you we did reach our goal, because neither of us remember that picture being taken.
Bar #3: Agatha (@alutoborski) tweeted this last week:
This place looks like it’s up @AldenWicker’s alley. Wine + eco + UWS. Trifecta! http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/the-tangled-vine/
I agreed. Agatha, who works with me at Ogilvy, lives on the Upper West Side too, so by the next Thursday we were there.
It’s a fairly large place but was pretty crowded, so the hostess put us at a communal table. The wine list was printed on computer paper and housed in a cheap picture album, but at least it was extensive, going on for pages and pages. I scoured it for a biodynamic wine, but failing to find one by the glass, I settled for an organic red.
We were so close to our neighbors and the the place was so loud that at one point Agatha had to apologize to the older ladies to our left for talking too loudly. Every time someone had to get up, everyone had to climb down from their stool and stand to the side to let them pass.
We ordered a couple light plates, meant to be shared, of asparagus and pea risotto and organic veal meatballs. “If it’s organic, does that mean it’s humanely raised? Or just that it was stuff with organic corn?” I asked Agatha. She is just as into this stuff as I am.
“Who knows,” she said, spooning the last of the risotto onto my plate while I unsuccessfully tried to wave her off. “I feel like none of these labels really mean anything.”
I shrugged and waved down the waiter to refill our glasses. At least the food was delicious. After reading the reviews on Yelp, I concluded that the best experience would be at the bar, where one could have a conversation with the sommelier about wines. The check came and our eyes bugged out a little. I realized it was my organic wine that did it, at $14 a glass. Ouch.
Friday Mike and I went to Angelika to see MicMacs by the director of Amelie (See it! Adorable!!) And afterward we casted around for someplace to go for dinner. I looked through my long list of saved emails from Tasting Table, Refinery 29, Daily Candy, and Thrillist. (I like email lists, so sue me.) “There’s a pizza place that’s supposed to be good near hear,” I told Mike. “You read my mind. I was just thinking I wanted pizza,” he said. So we walked to Otto Enoteca.
I wasn’t expecting such a fancy place! Dark wood, a fully stocked wine bar, menus printed on heavy stock recycled paper… Turns out it is Mario Batali’s “cheap” place.
It was almost ten, and the hostess said it was a forty minute wait. We balked a bit, but it looked so nice we decided to stay. She gave us a card with an Italian town, and told us to watch the train station-style flipboard at the front. We walked over to the bar and stood there for a moment, wondering what our next step was. A waiter noticed us and informed us that we could get service at one of the communal standing tables, so we set ourselves up at one and immediately had someone ready to take our order.
Mike ordered a bottle of red from Sicily, where his family is from. I looked up the reviews on Yelp, and saw several mentions of truffle honey that came with the cheese platter. So I picked out two New York cheeses and Mike picked an Italian one that means “drunk.” After only a couple minutes, our waiter was back with four plates. On one he poured the truffle honey, a deep golden liquid with flecks of dark brown in it. On another he poured the cherry honey with three whole cherries, and on the third he poured honey with small chunks of apricot.
The cherry honey was so tart it was like Starburst candy. The apricot honey was delicious. But the truffle honey. Oh the truffle honey. It was sweet with a smokey, musky undertone. We had barely started when our town came up on the flip board 15 minutes early. A busboy skillfully gathered up our plates, balancing them up his arm, while Mike went to pay the check.
“The service here is out of this world,” he said when he got back. “I went to find our waiter and this guy asked me if I wanted the check, then another guy right behind me just handed it to me. It was amazing.”
We were led to our table through two dining rooms. There were a lot of pretty people there and I felt myself tense up a little. I wore little makeup, and just a simple dress with Jack Rogers and an old Longchamp. But as soon as we got to our table I relaxed as I dove back into the cheeses. Mike and I debated the merits of each pairing of cheese and honey and vowed not to be rushed through our dinner. We wanted to do it truly Italian style: slowly and with relish.
Well, we couldn’t go as slowly as we wanted, as the waiter stopped by often to check on us and as soon as our plates looked empty a busboy appeared to whisk them away and replace them with our four cheese and black pepper pizza. But oh-my-god-was-that-pizza-good. It had a thin, crispy crust with a melange of white cheeses that were just thick and gooey enough, while the pepper gave it a gentle kick.
“This place really is Sicilian,” Mike said as we walked out. The decor and food and ambiance all vividly evoked Italy to him.
That won’t be my last wine bar, for sure. I want to learn more about wines, and Vicki said she’s down for a wine class at Otto. Are there any other wine bars you would recommend in New York?